Astonishingly weak indeed
Colby Cosh had this to say Monday about Tart Cider: "I don't even know what the heck Torontonian Chris Selley does for a living, but he's great." I tend to agree, which is why Selley's post about the teenaged Jehovah's Witness with cancer disappoints me that much more.
Minor quibbles first: there is not a good analogy between this case and Terri Schiavo. I would never speak for religious conservatives, but from where I sit, it's entirely different because we are crystal clear about the wishes of both the patient and the guardians. Schiavo's parents were arguing expressly that she was minimally conscious, and expressing her wish to live ("ahhhhh! waaaaa!" etc.). So the issue here is nothing about what the patient would want, and entirely about whether those wishes should be ignored.
Also, does refusing a blood transfusion against the unanimous recommendation of doctors qualify as irrefutably loony? Obviously Selley and most Canadians think it does; I do not, I don't expect to change anyone's mind, and that's not the aim of this post. However, I think it behooves us all to consider the question of whether there are worse things than death.
This doesn't require a religious perspective at all. I would guess that for nearly all of us there exists certain potential agonies, humiliations, or heartbreaks which we would assess as being less preferable than death. Thinking of some? Good - now imagine that someone else's list is different than yours. Would you replace his list with your own if you had the power, for his own good? Should we all take a vote on it? Maybe he feels the same way - should we all take a vote on your list?
This is mostly barking at the moon; legal precedent favouring the government is ample on the JW/minor/blood transfusion question. However, as usual, we should check our premises--and be reminded that deciding for someone else, child or not, what is better than death is a grave step to take.
All that said, what is most offensive about Selley's take is easily this portion:
I don't have much of an activist bent, but I'll lay my cards on the table here: we need to find this girl and take all medical steps possible to save her life. The arguments against doing so — including her own, I'm sorry to say — are astonishingly weak:
It's no different than somebody getting sexually assaulted or robbed or something. You'd feel violated because it's not anybody else's property, it's you.
Well, that does sound rough. But it's rather ironic, as one blogger observed, that:
This [comes] from a girl who has ingested drugs, had chemo, gotten through two surgeries and accepted the possibility of having her leg amputated.
Furthermore, while it may be like rape, assault and robbery, at least it's not like murder.
Ironic? What the fuck? Here's irony--read the entire paragraph written by "Charlie Quimby", the blogger whose observation Selley notes:
This from a girl who has ingested drugs, had chemo, gotten through two surgeries and accepted the possibility of having her leg amputated. Lifesaving blood is different because the Bible says so. I might differ on that point, but not with her position that having something inserted in your body against your will is like rape.
Even Quimby is explicit that there is a distinction associated with consent; regrettably, Selley offers no clue that he sees one. (This girl is willing to undergo some types of medical treatment but not others, whereas I would make a different choice. How ironic! It's almost like we're two different people!)
There is irony to be found here, though. How about this: there are undoubtedly Jehovah's Witnesses who today would be much sicker, or dead, if it weren't for their (cough) lunatic dogma against receiving blood transfusions.
And how's this for irony: sneering at a girl's comparision of a blood transfusion to sexual assault ("well, that does sound rough"), then expressing your wish to "track her down, strap her to a table and pump her full of medical science."
That's just brutal. Although we may have figured out Selley's job - is it M.D.? Because it's hard to imagine why else he would give so much creedence to the notion of doctor-as-God.
An otherwise unremarkable act performed in the absence of consent is serious stuff. This also brings up another point: while a 14-year-old has barely more legal right to run their own lives than a 4-year-old, it's not the same thing. A young JW child forced into a blood transfusion would not understand much of what was happening, would not appreciate the consequences in any meaningful sense, and stands a good chance of forgetting about the whole thing a few years down the road.
No such luck with a 14-year-old. She's going to be traumatized. Furthermore, how does she go about putting it behind her? "Living with the reminder" seems like the appropriate phrase here. Maybe, per Selley's hope, she'll grow up and "realize how stupid and backwards and nutty her parents' religion is", and find peace. Maybe she'll be so overcome with self-loathing that she jumps off a bridge. Maybe she'll be mostly OK, but will battle depression for the rest of her life. I don't know, but the idea of doing this risk-benefit analysis for someone I don't even know makes me queasy.
There is a base premise here that >90% of us could agree on: "There are certain extraordinary circumstances under which the state is justified in removing children from the care of their parents." We would all disagree on what constitutes extraordinary, but we generally agree that children have certain rights beyond what their parents may choose to bestow on them, and we ought to ensure that these rights are respected.
Selley has done a dismal job of asserting that this is one of those extraordinary circumstances, principally because he demonstrates no humility in vetoing the choices of the girl and her parents.
This is by most accounts a normal girl with a solid family structure. She does not "wish to die": she has pursued all other avenues of treatment, and is continuing to do so. Her refusal to accept someone else's blood is in accordance with the well-known beliefs of a religion that's been around for 100+ years. She would suffer an unknowable amount of emotional trauma if she is forced to accept the transfusion. Although we believe (probably correctly) now that a transfusion carries no real medical risk, there are presently thousands of Canadians waiting to be compensated for diseases contracted that way in the 80s and 90s. And by the way, forcing a blood transfusion into this may well discourage those like her in the future from seeking medical treatment at all.
On the other hand, the best medical knowledge we have in 2005 strongly indicates that the girl's immediate physical health would be best served by having a blood transfusion.
This is serious business. If you want to argue that various bits of prevailing medical wisdom ought to override the wishes of the patient and her parents, I'm listening. I'm objecting, but I'm listening. But don't come at me with this weak crap where not only do a doctor's orders amount to the word of God, but that all other considerations are comparatively so trivial as to be meaningless. A good doctor, after all, is supposed to treat the patient, not the illness.
Peace be with you, dear.